I've Got a Fast Connection So I Don't Have to Wait . . .

March 4, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

You don’t expect an article form the Journal of Economic Perspectives make it to the national news . . . unless it’s about pornography, politics, and piety. Here are some typical headlines.
Red Staters Buy More Online Porn than Blue Staters (USA Today)
Red State Porn Purchasing Power (SF Chronicle)
Porn in the USA: Conservatives Are Biggest Consumers (ABC News)
The study, by Benjamin Edelman at the Harvard Business School, look at paid subscriptions to online porn sites from a single company (one of the top ten), which provided Edelman the zip codes of their subscribers.

Here’s the table that got the most attention in the press.

(Click on the table to see a larger version.)

In his New York Times blog, Charles Blow reprinted the table with the third column highlighted in red. That column shows several conservative states (Utah, Araknsas, Oklahoma) in the top ten, and several liberal states (New Jersey, Oregon, Connecticut) in the bottom ten. Blow says, “New evidence suggests that people who live in states that laud morality may also be the most lascivious.”

Is that what Edelman found? Is that even what the table shows? Look again.

When Edelman used porn subscriptions per capita (column 1), New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts were in the top ten, a finding that the media pretty much ignored. When he changed the denominator to homes with Internet access (column 2), New Jersey and Massachusetts were still in the top ten, joined by California. It was only when he changed the denominator to homes with broadband that some of these liberal states wound up in the lowest fifth, and states like Oklahoma and Arkansas hit the top ten.

Here’s what really happened. When it comes to paying for online porn, variation by state is fairly small. As Edelman says at the conclusion of his article, “interest in online adult entertainment [is] relatively constant across regions.” But regions do differ in broadband access. Using broadband rather than population has a big impact. Connecticut, Oregon, Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey are all high in broadband access (near 60% of households); Oklahoma, Arkansas, and West Virginia are all in the lowest quintile (less than 40%).

What column 3 shows is not so much who’s paying for porn but who has broadband. “Avenue Q” fans will understand:

(The first 30 seconds or so is all you need to get the idea, although the best line comes near the end.

The outlier in my analysis is Utah – lots of broadband, lots of porn. Can any Mormonologists out there explain this?

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